Liège (LGG) is the operational, technical, and logistical center of the Malta-based Challenge Group. There, in addition to air transportation to a variety of destinations, it offers the
market a bundle of coordinated services, from ground handling to trucking, charter flights, and line maintenance assistance.
Following the example of its extensive activities in Liège, the Group also plans to operate a cargo center in the U.S. in future. Group CEO, Yossi Shoukroun, and Challenge Communications Officer, Gianluca Marcangelo, confirmed these intentions to CargoForwarder Global in an exclusive interview.
Small is beautiful
Mr. Marcangelo says that the U.S. airport issue has not been decided yet, as various locations are currently being evaluated. Rumors which he did not comment, point at Rockford near Chicago, or Pittsburgh. The result of the search process is expected to be announced in the first or second quarter of next year. In any case, he stresses that his Group will select a smaller place, that will match his company’s strategy and vision as a facilitator to the logistics industry like Liege is in western Europe.
“We're looking at an airport operating 24/7/365, that's manageable in size, offering an attractive infrastructure, allowing for rapid cargo growth, and where freight and passenger business do not get in each other's way.” In return, Challenge offers to create a win-win situation triggered by fast traffic growth, as demonstrated in Liège for over 20 years. “We offer clients a multitude of one-stop-shopping solutions, tailored to their needs,” states Gianluca Marcangelo. Like practiced with Kuehne+Nagel in LGG, leading to regular charter flights from the Walloon airport to the Americas, Far East, and Africa focused on healthcare products. This operation that requires specialized handling and constant monitoring of GDP-compliant shipments could serve as a role model for the future gateway in the U.S.
“We are inspired by the shared economy concept, and we believe the Liege environment is the right platform where stakeholders can interact to complement each other to their mutual benefit. We embarked on a sustainable approach to business where we maximize the use of the existing resources in terms of air freight, handling, and road feeder service, especially during these difficult times where we’re facing mounting costs and inflation. Therefore, we need to increase the overall efficiency of the air freight industry,” states CEO, Yossi Shoukroun.
On way to becoming an integrator
The partnership concept plays a key role in the Group’s long-term business strategy. “We consider ourselves an enabler of end-to-end cargo solutions,” emphasizes CEO Yossi Shoukroun.
A claim that he does not have exclusively. However, Challenge Group can refer to Liège, where this approach has worked over years, benefitting both sides. The collaboration begins at the shipper’s door and ends with the handover of the consignments at destination in close cooperation with freight forwarders and on their behalf. "In this way, the group is developing into a small integrator for specific verticals and non-standard cargo that offers all services from a single source, and relies on fixed contractual partners,” says Torsten Wefers, VP Sales & Marketing Liège Airport. For example, by spanning a large trucking network served by contractual partners. “Based on this vision, Challenge has developed into one of the key players at our airport,” applauds Mr. Wefers. Along with ASL Belgium, it is one of two home carriers and the largest of the 4 ground handling players operating in LGG. Handling customers include Magma Aviation, Astral Aviation, Qatar Airways Cargo, National Airlines, Bluebird Nordic and, as of two weeks ago, the American cargo airline, JetOneX, which is flying to Liège for the first time, using a B747-400F.
In LGG, the Group operates various cargo terminals with a total floorspace of 41,000 m². Its cool rooms for pharma and other temp critical goods are IATA CEIV certified. In addition, after acquiring and rebranding the former handler LACHS - Liège Air Cargo Handling Services - it manages the Horse Inn, from which race and pedigree horses take off to participate in equestrian events across the world.
Challenge Group holds three AOCs: an Israeli operating permit, a Belgian license, and one issued by the Maltese aviation authority. Currently, the fleet includes four B747-400 freighters and four B767-300F. Most flights originate and terminate in Liège. By 2026, the fleet is expected to consist of five B747-400Fs, four B767-300Fs, and four B777-300Fs. “We are moving toward twin-engine aircraft, also because of lower greenhouse gas emissions. However, we intend to keep our B747 jumbo freighters which are equipped with nose doors. This allows us to load oversized items into the aircraft, making us an attractive provider of air freight solutions,” explains Mr. Shoukroun.
Eying combined sea-air traffic
In addition to expanding its business on transatlantic routes, Challenge increasingly eyes the market in the Far East, including China, Singapore, and South Korea. The carrier also intends to step into combined sea-air traffic, for example by transferring cargo from vessel to plane in ports in the United Arab Emirates. “If customers ask for it, we go,” states Mr. Shoukroun.
When touching financial issues of the privately-owned consortium, he reacts reservedly. “Yes, we are profitable and have been financially sustainable over a certain period of time. What I can confirm, is the fact that the lion's share of our surplus is reinvested in our Group, whereby each expenditure serves a very specific business goal,” the CEO states.
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